Jennifer and I have been hanging out for long weekends in Cambria CA for 20 years or so. For all that time San Luis Obispo was a place to pass through while head up or down the coast. Nothing against the pretty college town. It is just close enough to Cambria for us to skip in either direction – too close for a lunch or bathroom stop.
All that changed in December 2010, after our first visit to Buona Tavola in SLO. It’s been there since 1992 and it is our misfortune that it took so long for us to find it.
Under the heading of full disclosure, with a measure of braggadocio, I will admit that on our first visit we were hosted by owners Antonio and Kasey Varia and their daughter. The Varias are personal friends of a close friend of ours, who introduced us to Antonio and Kasey and their wonderful restaurant.
It has been a policy at atLarrys.com that we do not recommend restaurants if we are treated differently than a customer who just walks in off the street, and being the guests of the owners certainly present the risk of being treated differently.
I grappled with this issue for several months before deciding it would be unfair to the Varias if I deprive them of this recommendation just because of their graciousness. Nor would it be fair to our readers to deprive them of an awareness of this outstanding northern Italian style restaurant.
I kept a careful eye on the other tables as we dined, watching to see how others were being served and treated. When Tony left our table to greet guests on the other side of the room, Kasey explained they were regular customers since the first night the restaurant opened. In short order it was apparent that most of the diners in the room were regular customers as they greeted Tony warmly and he responded in kind, addressing all by their names.
As we made our way through the meal I understood why this restaurant commands such loyalty. The food we were served when we dined with Tony and Kasey was no different than what was being served to others. Nothing put before us was not available to any other guest. From the handcrafted, artisan salumis prepared personally by Tony, to the quality of the anchovies on the Cesar salad, to the originality of the pappardelle with flat iron steak in a slightly spicy tomato based sauce with peppers and capers, there was not a flaw in the experience.
The atmosphere at Buona Tavola is as warm and friendly as any we experienced in dozens of family owned restaurants throughout Italy. Tony’s deft hand in the kitchen and loyalty to his Italian roots assure that the food is fresh and carefully prepared.
Tony and Kasey have a second restaurant – Buona Tavola Paso Robles. The menu differs slightly. But having spent an evening dining and talking about food with Tony I have every faith dui will match the original. Take a look at the creative menus at http://www.btslo.com and as you do you can know that the food on the table lives up to the promise on the menu. It may be 30 minutes down the highway from Cambria, but how many times do we drive that long or longer for dinner when we are at home. It may be Highway 1 instead of city streets or freeways, but it’s still just 30 minutes. And from now on every trip to Cambria will include a dinner at Buona Tavola.